Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
Remember when law and order were standard political issues? Before this year that meant empowering law enforcement to fight crime. This year seemed to be an order for law enforcement to stand down. Here is a roundup of the top issues impacting cops across the country.
In New York, newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned, in part, on a promise to get rid of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Her sentiments have been echoed in various degrees by Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Nydia Velázquez of New York, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Adriano Espaillat of New York, New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
In Oregon, voters voted strongly to keep an existing sanctuary law prohibiting local law enforcement from using public resources to locate or detain undocumented immigrants not suspected of additional crimes. Six other states have similar sanctuary status, along with dozens of counties and cities according to the Center for Immigration studies website. Opinions vary on the immediate impact these restrictions have on local law enforcement, but reduced federal funding is one potential effect.
In Florida, voters very narrowly elected Ron DeSantis as governor over Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, a democrat painted as hostile to law enforcement, as well as restoring voting rights to convicted felons. Gillum is just one of a host of politicians and public figures who seem to have sided with the criminal element under the guise of justice reform.
Use of force
In Washington State, voters enacted alleged reforms under initiative 940 by a 60 percent margin. While the measure would require a revised definition of justification for deadly force, require independent investigations, and mandatory mental health and de-escalation training for police officers, the real significance of the measure is the public ignorance of the reality that those issues are already addressed in law and practice in law enforcement. As with many so-called police reforms, the public seems to demand things that are already a reality.
New Hampshire, the “live free or die” state, approved a state constitutional amendment intended to limit government intrusion that, among other things, might require warrants for any DNA collection from ordinary objects of investigation.
In Nashville, despite active opposition from the local FOP, 60 percent of voters approved a change to police oversight by creation of an advisory board partially in response to a controversial and police shooting.
Even with ongoing national debate about gun regulation, the only measure on a ballot around the country regarding gun control was in Washington where a lengthy set of rules was enacted – again by a 60 percent majority – that could severely impact the state’s firearms owners and purchasers. What impact this may have on crime may never be known, since studies of causes and effects on crime over time have too many variables to pin down single factors for the rise and fall of crime rates, but opponents fear an inability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. The impact on policing is impossible to predict, but law enforcement groups opposed the measure.
Missouri, Utah and Michigan voters jumped on the marijuana bandwagon, joining the majority of states that have now decriminalized, allowed medical use, or accepted recreational use of weed. With promises of alternatives to opioids, funding for schools, personal freedom and reduced criminality related to marijuana prohibition, pot advocates are winning the minds of voters. While the science of cannabis is finding new medical uses for psychoactive drugs, as well as the component of cannabis that are not mind-altering such as CBD, criminal activity associated with growing weed illegally hasn’t stopped. Voters are choosing the touted benefits of legalization over the hidden costs of polydrug use, highway crashes, addiction, developmental impairment in young people and possible ties to homelessness.
The will of the people
As armed government agents, law enforcement officers must always submit to the will of the people as the most visible power of government. Whether the balance of demands for crime control amid cries for control of police practice in this political climate will allow the thin blue line to remain unbroken, and effective policing to continue, remains the most challenging question of the day.